How CBD Helps With ADHD
Although some anecdotal evidence states that CBD helps with ADHD symptoms, there is limited research on the use of CBD for treating ADHD. Most studies surrounding CBD and ADHD focus on cannabis use rather than CBD(1).
Studies on cannabis involve a wide range of compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant, including the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound. Meanwhile, CBD studies focus on CBD, the cannabis plant’s nonpsychoactive compound.
People with ADHD exhibit an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development(2).
CBD works to help with ADHD by engaging with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a biological network consisting of cannabinoid receptors known as CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and related to different cognitive functions. Meanwhile, CB2 receptors are more abundant in the immune system and connected to pain and inflammation.
Brain receptors are responsive to neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. The receptors also respond to chemical messengers outside the body, such as phytocannabinoids.
CBD and THC are two phytocannabinoids that come from the cannabis plant. CBD does not produce mind-altering effects, while THC is a compound associated with the feeling of being high.
A study stated that people with ADHD often have low levels of dopamine(3). CBD has been demonstrated to regulate the dopamine system’s “reward” pathway(4).
The regulation of the reward pathway may enhance cognitive processes, such as attention, learning, mood, and memory(5).
Researchers hypothesized that CBD activates the body’s serotonin receptors, causing the brain to release dopamine(6). This mechanism is similar to how medications work for conditions like ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
Another study was conducted on the effects of CBD on animal models. The test subjects were selected for their AMPAR deficiency, making them suitable models for hyperactivity disorders, like ADHD(7).
AMPAR (α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid receptor) is widely distributed and abundant in the central nervous system. AMPA receptors facilitate fast communication between nerve cells or neurons(8).
Researchers observed that CBD reduced manifestations of hyperactivity when introduced into the hippocampus, which is the brain’s region responsible for spatial learning and adaptation.
Thus, it was suggested that CBD may inhibit hyperactive networks in the hippocampus and other parts of the brain(9).
Benefits of Using CBD Oil for ADHD
Despite limited research on CBD as a potential treatment for ADHD, several studies suggested that CBD may help manage specific symptoms of ADHD.
Some people with ADHD may struggle with anxiety, making their symptoms worse(10).
Studies showed that CBD possessed anxiety-reducing properties that may help those with ADHD and anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder (SAD)(11).
Behaviors linked to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may resemble those of ADHD. These behaviors include hyperactivity, rage, and self-injury.
In a study, parents administered cannabidiol oil to their children with ASD. Findings showed reduced symptoms of hyperactivity in more than half of the participants, while rage and self-injury improved in about 36 out of the 53 children(12).
A 2013 study also explored ADHD subtypes and cannabis use. The three major subtypes of ADHD are inattentive and distractible, impulsive/hyperactive, and combined(13).
Based on the findings, people with hyperactivity and impulsivity were more likely to self-medicate with cannabis than people with inattentive subtypes of ADHD(14).
A 2017 randomized controlled trial looked at cannabis users with ADHD. The researchers observed a minor improvement in brain function and a reduction in ADHD symptoms(15).
However, the slight improvement of these symptoms was not enough to consider cannabinoids as a more effective treatment than placebo.
CBD Dosage and Delivery Methods for ADHD
There are currently no official guidelines for CBD dosage for various medical conditions, including ADHD(16).
Researchers have observed that adults can tolerate CBD doses of up to 1,500mg per day, while the tolerated dosage for children is significantly less(17).
A study also noted that a single 300mg dose of CBD may be sufficient to reduce anxiety, a mental health condition often seen in people with ADHD(18).
However, further research is necessary to determine a safe and effective dose for ADHD symptoms.
If you are taking CBD oil for the first time, it is advisable to start with the lowest possible dosage to let your body adjust to CBD. Take note of any adverse effects you may experience.
Once your body is used to CBD oil, gradually increase the dosage to maximize the potential therapeutic effects of CBD.
Get medical advice from a trusted health professional before buying and taking CBD oil for ADHD. The doctor will let you know whether you can use CBD for ADHD symptoms and how you can take CBD properly.
Methods of Delivery
There are no official recommendations on taking CBD for ADHD due to insufficient research(19). Various products that may help with symptoms of ADHD include CBD capsules, tinctures, edibles, gummies, topicals, and vape products.
CBD tinctures may be taken using the sublingual method. It involves putting a few drops of CBD oil under the tongue with a dropper and waiting for a few seconds before swallowing the oil.
The sublingual method enables you to control the amount of CBD you are taking. The approach also allows CBD to be absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
CBD effects start to kick in around 10 to 15 minutes, with the effects lasting up to a few hours(20).
CBD oil may be ingested via capsules and CBD-infused edibles, such as gummies, brownies, and chocolates. CBD-infused beverages, like coffee, juices, and weight loss teas, are also available.
The ingestion method may take 30 to 60 minutes for CBD to kick in, while the effects may last up to six hours(21).
Inhaling CBD through vaping or smoking delivers the compound more quickly than other delivery methods(22). In the inhalation method, CBD is sent directly to the lungs and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
The effects of vaping CBD may occur in minutes, while the effects last approximately one to four hours(23).
However, there is an increasing concern among medical professionals regarding the safety of vaping CBD. Studies have found that vaping has several side effects, including coughing, dry mouth and throat, and shortness of breath(24).
Vape use may also pose risks to the lungs and cause lung problems, such as collapsed lung and lipoid pneumonia(25).
CBD products may also be applied directly to the skin to promote soothing effects and pain relief(26). Topical products include CBD-infused lotions, gels, creams, salves, and balms.
CBD-infused products are absorbed through the surface of the skin. However, the topical method is not enough to reach the bloodstream, which provides a limited absorption of CBD(27).
CBD and Alternative Treatments for ADHD
People have been considering ADHD treatment alternatives as the typically prescribed medications often have side effects. Some treatment options to manage symptoms of ADHD include stimulants, non-stimulants, or antidepressants(28).
About 70% to 80% of children diagnosed with ADHD are being treated with stimulants (drugs that stimulate the central nervous system). Children with ADHD also have fewer ADHD symptoms when taking stimulants(29).
However, these medications may be accompanied by adverse effects, such as lack of appetite, seizures, sleep disturbances, heart or psychiatric problems, and an increased risk of medication abuse(30).
Studies have shown that the following alternative approaches may be effective in relieving ADHD symptoms.
Exercise or any physical activity releases hormones that may improve memory, mood, concentration, and learning(31).
This activity may also boost attention, enhance brain activity, and modulate the neurotransmitter systems of individuals with ADHD.
Children with ADHD are often low on brain chemicals. Regular exercise helps induce various brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)(32).
Research also showed that cognitively, socially, and aerobically challenging exercises help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD and facilitate healthy cognitive development(33).
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids are usually available in food and supplements. These essential fatty acids help brain neurons communicate more effectively(34).
A lack of communication between brain neurons may result in ADHD-like symptoms, such as having trouble focusing and impulsivity(35).
Multiple studies reported the benefits of omega fatty acid supplementation in various dosages for reducing attention difficulties, anxiety, and behavioral problems of children with ADHD(36).
In a clinical trial, children with ADHD were administered high daily doses of fish oil. Findings showed a significant improvement in children’s attention and behavior and reduced their hyperactivity and defiance(37).
Children with ADHD are more likely to have food allergies and sensitivities(38). Research suggested that hypersensitivity to certain foods and additives may affect children’s behavior and exacerbate ADHD symptoms(39).
Regular meals and snacks consisting of low-glycemic index proteins, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids (EFAs) are advised for individuals with ADHD. Some foods rich in EFAs include fish, flax seeds, walnuts, and almonds.
Meanwhile, refined sugars, carbohydrates, and processed foods with additives should be avoided or eliminated from the diet.
Studies have suggested that a restricted elimination diet (“few foods approach”) for children with ADHD may be effective. The children who followed the dietary intervention showed at least 50% improvement in their behavior(40).
However, it is advised to consult with a doctor or dietitian first before following a restrictive diet.
Studies suggested that CBD may help manage some symptoms associated with ADHD, such as anxiety and depression.
CBD oil was observed to have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties to manage various anxiety disorders(41). CBD may also have antidepressant effects to help with depression(42).
However, further studies are needed to explore CBD’s impact and long-term effects on ADHD symptoms.
Risks and Side Effects of Using CBD for ADHD
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) says that “CBD is generally well-tolerated with a good safety profile,” adverse reactions may still occur upon CBD use(43).
The possible side effects of CBD may include drowsiness, fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, loss of appetite, changes in mood and alertness, gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, and liver damage(44).
In one study, CBD was observed to increase the risk of liver toxicity in mice that received high amounts of CBD(45).
It is also possible for CBD to interact with other prescription medications, dietary supplements, or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Some examples of ADHD medications include Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin, Vyvanse, and Concerta(46).
The cytochrome P450 (CYP450) is a family of enzymes responsible for metabolizing several cannabinoids. A study showed that CBD impacts how the enzymes metabolize some medications(47).
If the drugs are metabolized too quickly, there may not be enough medication in the system to improve health conditions or treat specific medical issues.
If the drugs are metabolized too slowly, there may be more medication in the system than intended, resulting in harmful and undesirable side effects.
You should avoid taking CBD alongside medications with a grapefruit warning. The acid found in grapefruit may interfere with the absorption of ADHD medications in the body(48).
Research also noted that many potential long-term effects of CBD are unknown. It is still unclear whether CBD affects the body’s hormones, which may be a concern for developing young adults(49).
Moreover, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers against unapproved cannabis products, like CBD(50).
CBD products have not been subjected to FDA approval because CBD is not an ingredient considered under FDA’s Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drug Review(51). Thus, these products may put the safety and health of consumers at risk.
To date, Epidiolex is the only cannabis-derived product approved by the FDA. Epidiolex contains a purified form of CBD to treat two rare forms of epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Dravet syndrome(52).
How to Choose the Best CBD Oil for ADHD
It is important to know the three types of CBD oil before purchasing any CBD product for ADHD: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and CBD isolates.
Full-spectrum CBD oil contains the naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant, such as CBD, THC, terpenes, fatty acids, essential oils, and flavonoids. These compounds create a synergy called the entourage effect.
A study indicated that the compounds and phytochemicals in full-spectrum CBD may offer a high potency CBD oil(53). Researchers also noted that full-spectrum CBD may provide therapeutic benefits and wellness in animals with chronic pain.
Broad-spectrum CBD oil contains multiple cannabinoids and other compounds in the cannabis plant. However, the THC compound is removed from the CBD extract.
Broad-spectrum CBD is recommended if you want the same components as full-spectrum CBD without the risk of psychoactive effects.
CBD isolate is pure CBD oil because it contains cannabidiol only. Isolates are free from THC, terpenes, fatty acids, and any other cannabinoids from the hemp plant.
Although both are derived from hemp, hempseed oil and hemp oil have significant differences. Hemp oil is obtained by extracting the oil from the hemp plant.
Meanwhile, hempseed oil is extracted from raw hemp seeds. Hempseed oil may have trace amounts of CBD or none at all.
The following factors are also essential in choosing safe, reliable, and high-quality CBD products for ADHD:
- Know the CBD oil product’s source of hemp. Some of the hemp sources in the United States are Colorado, Oregon, California, and Kentucky.
- Choose quality products derived from non-GMO, organic hemp.
- Identify which extraction method is used in the CBD product. CO2 is one of the most commonly used ways of extracting CBD.
- Purchase CBD products from reliable sources. CBD brands should provide consumers with third-party lab reports to ensure the absence of pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, and residual solvents.
- Compare the CBD company’s claims about products’ potency with third-party lab results.
- Look for certification codes in CBD products. Several certification authorities only approve certain products after thorough screening tests.
- Consult with a medical professional experienced in CBD use before purchasing any CBD product.
- Before buying from a physical store, check whether a dispensary or retailer is authorized by the government to sell CBD.
- When purchasing from an online store, research the CBD brand and read product reviews from customers.
- Know the exact legal stipulations applicable to CBD in the state where you will purchase and use the product.
Legality of CBD
Under the Farm Bill of 2018, hemp-derived CBD oil containing not more than 0.3% THC is legal. This law also allows the growth, production, and manufacturing of hemp on the federal level(54).
Meanwhile, the legal status of CBD may vary for different states. Many states have passed laws that legalize CBD and cannabis-related products, while other states may also have restrictions on the THC levels found in the CBD product(55).
Individuals may legally possess, purchase, or use medical cannabis if they are registered with a state’s medical marijuana program(56).
Some of the program’s requirements include an official diagnosis from a licensed physician that the individual has a qualifying medical condition and a prescription allowing the use of cannabis-rich oil.